TEC’s 25 FAVOURITE SYNTH INSTRUMENTALS Of The 21ST CENTURY

Today, electronic instrumental music is everywhere, but often in the form of tedious dance tracks with no tunes all over Beatport and social media.

Luckily, there are still exponents of the classic synth instrumental, and thanks to the rise of the Synthwave sub-genre, there is currently a sympathetic environment for more esoteric and melodic musical offerings.

The key to a good instrumental is it either has to be very melodic to make up for the lack of vocals or very unobtrusive so that while the music is interesting enough to be listened to, it can also be ignored. Thus a Eurorack modular tutorial cannot credibly count as a valid release… 😉

As a follow-up to TEC’s 25 SYNTH INSTRUMENTALS Of The CLASSIC ERA, with a limit of one track per artist, The Electricity Club presents its 25 FAVOURITE SYNTH INSTRUMENTALS Of The 21ST CENTURY in chronological and then alphabetical order…


SYSTEM F Insolation (2000)

While Dutch producer Ferry Corsten hit paydirt with club hits such as ‘Out Of The Blue’ and ‘Cry’ as SYSTEM F, the debut album pointed towards the Trance’s link to electronic pop. As well as a collaboration with Marc Almond entitled ‘Soul On Soul’, the long player included the beautifully majestic classic instrumental ‘Insolation’ which took a breather from the usual four-to-the floor format.

Available on the album ‘Out Of The Blue’ via Premier

http://www.ferrycorsten.com/


PPK ResuRection – Perfecto Edit (2001)

PPK were a Russian trance duo comprising of  Sergei Pimenov and Alexander Polyakov. The original melody of ‘ResuRection’ came from Eduard Artemyev’s synthesized theme from the epic 1979 Soviet movie ‘Siberiade’ which won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival. Easily mistaken for JEAN-MICHEL JARRE, the thrusting seven minute ‘Perfecto Edit’ in particular was like an exuberant rocket launch set to music.

Originally released by Perfecto Records, currently unavailable

http://promodj.com/ppk


LADYTRON Turn It On (2002)

With a piercing synthphonic riff, scat vocoder, robotic bass and a rigid programmed beat, ‘Turn It On’ saw LADYTRON take a bleep forward with an attempt at a KRAFTWERK track for the 21st Century via Liverpool, Glasgow and Sofia. But as it headed towards its final third, it detoured back to Liverpool and turned into ‘Electricity’ in a cheeky homage to Merseyside’s original electronic trailblazers OMD.

Available on the album ‘Light & Magic’ via Telstar

http://www.ladytron.com/


FROST Klong (2003)

A Norwegian electronic duo consisting of Aggie Peterson and Per Martinsen, FROST released their second album ‘Melodica’ to a positive response, thanks to some production assistance by RÖYKSOPP on two tracks. The beautiful Arctic serenity of ‘Klong’ featuring local trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær alongside layers of gorgeous crystalline synths was one of the albums’ highlights.

Available on the album ‘Melodica’ via Frost World Recordings

https://frostnorway.com/


MYLO Emotion 96.8 (2004)

‘Destroy Rock & Roll’ was the well-received debut album by Scottish DJ Myles MacInnes that alongside DAFT PUNK and BASEMENT JAXX, summed up the sample laden dance music that was prevalent at the time. The album’s best track however was the more downtempo, MOBY-esque richness of ‘Emotion 96.8’ with its beautiful sweeping synth melodies and unobtrusive rhythm structure.

Available on the album ‘Destroy Rock & Roll’ via Breastfed

http://www.mylo.tv/


ORBITAL Pants (2004)

With a hypnotic Motorik rhythm, pulsating bleeps and spacey whirs driving a moodier template along the lines of cult German experimentalists EMAK, Phil and Paul Hartnoll continued their primarily instrumental template on their ‘Blue Album’, although SPARKS contributed vocals to a totally unrelated track called ‘Acid Pants’. The brothers split shortly after the long player’s release, but returned in 2009 to play The Big Chill Festival.

Available on the album ‘Blue Album’ via Orbital Music

http://orbitalofficial.com/


MOBY Homeward Angel (2005)

From ‘Hymn’ to ‘First Cool Hive’ to ‘A Seated Night’, the man born Richard Melville Hall is a master of the instrumental. The solemn ‘Homeward Angel’ closed MOBY’s comparatively conventional and sample-less ‘Hotel’ album with a solemn yet uplifting slice of mood music that in retrospect, was incongruous with the main act. However, since leaving Mute in 2008, his more recent self-released albums such as ‘Destroyed’ and ‘Innocents’ have displayed this more esoteric quality.

Available on the album ‘Hotel’ via Mute Records

http://moby.com/


RÖYKSOPP Alpha Male (2005)

A ten minute instrumental epic, ‘Alpha Male’ came from RÖYKSOPP’s under rated second long player, one that moved away from the chill-out climes of ‘Melody AM’ into much darker sonic territory. The track’s lengthy ambient intro was interrupted by a mighty metronomic beat and the sort of progressive synth overtures that would have made JEAN-MICHEL JARRE proud.

Available on the album ‘The Understanding’ via Wall Of Sound Records

http://royksopp.com/


JOHN FOXX Kurfurstdendam (2006)

Since his musical return in 1997 with ‘Shifting City’, JOHN FOXX has practically had albums coming out of his ears in song-based, ambient and soundtrack formats, both solo and in collaboration with other artists. The spacey mechanical Schaffel of ‘Kurfurstdendam’ came from an imaginary soundtrack he called ‘Tiny Colour Movies’, inspired by a friend’s birthday screening of a private film collection comprising of random surveillance clips and offcuts from Hollywood.

Available on the album ‘Tiny Colour Movies’ via Metamatic Records

http://www.metamatic.com/


SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN Space-Elevator (2007)

Few acts actually genuinely sound like their name… SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN, which translates as “the last man in space”, is the solo project of Swedish synthpop trailblazer Eddie Bengtsson, he of PAGE and S.P.O.C.K fame. The frantic ‘Space-Elevator’ with its swimmy string synths and Sci-Fi derived melody acted as an effective Moroder-esque interlude on his excellent sixth album ‘Tredje Våningen’.

Available on the album ‘Tredje Våningen’ via Energy Rekords

http://www.moonbasealpha.space/


TENEK Ice Fields (2007)

Borrowing the distinctive bassline from SIMPLE MINDS’ 1981 single ‘Love Song’, Geoff Pinckney and Peter Steer put together this lively instrumental for their debut TENEK EP. With a modern mechanical groove coupled to their trademark synth rock, the almost funky ‘Ice Fields’ became an early live favourite, although the duo have focussed on more song based adventures for their three albums to date, ‘Stateless’, ‘On The Wire’ and ‘Smoke & Mirrors’.

Available on ‘EP1+’ via https://tenek.bandcamp.com/album/ep1

http://www.tenek.co.uk/


KLEERUP Hero (2008)

In 2007, Andreas Kleerup, producer and one-time drummer for THE MEAT BOYS, undertook his first mainstream collaboration with fellow Swede ROBYN. The success of ‘With Every Heartbeat’ led to the recording of his self-titled debut album which featured a number of brilliant instrumentals. ‘Hero’ was its perfect start and with a solid bassline and strong choral timbres, it had the vibe of how OMD might have sounded if they had formed in the 21st Century.

Available on the album ‘Kleerup’ via EMI Music

http://kleerup.net/


DAFT PUNK Tron Legacy – End Titles (2010)

While most of the ‘Tron Legacy’ soundtrack album was arranged and orchestrated by Joseph Trapanese, DAFT PUNK’s spiky electronics and drum machine were kept in alongside the epic strings for the end titles of the sequel to the 1982 movie ‘Tron’. There were nods to Wendy Carlos who composed the score to the original film, with Thomas Bangalter focusing on the heroic themes while Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo was more inclined to generating the darker elements.

Available on the soundtrack album ‘Tron Legacy’ via Walt Disney Records

https://www.daftpunk.com/


047 Kanpai! (2011)

Forming in 2001, Swedish duo 047 began their chiptune experiments thought a mutual appreciation of vintage video games. But after their debut long player, Peter Engström and Sebastian Rutgersson began to incorporate melodic song based elements and vocals into their music. The end results led to the impressive second album ‘Elva’, but they celebrated their chiptune influenced roots with the jolly YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA salute of ‘Kanpai!’

Available on the album ‘Elva’ via Killing Music

http://www.047.se/


MARSHEAUX Now & Never (2012)

‘The E-Bay Queen Is Dead’ was collection of rarities from the MARSHEAUX archives. While Marianthi Melitsi and Sophie Sarigiannidou have done a fair number of cover versions in their time, they are not really known for doing instrumentals. But the electro-boppy ‘Now & Never’ was a very promising wordless demo that Vince Clarke would have approved of; as one of his former DEPECHE MODE colleagues once sang: “words are very unnecessary…”

Available on the album ‘The E-Bay Queen Is Dead’ via Undo Records

http://marsheaux.com/


SOFT METALS Hourglass (2012)

Fusing Detroit techno with more European experimental forms, Patricia Hall and Ian Hicks’ second SOFT METALS album ‘Lenses’ featured the fabulous instrumental ‘Hourglass’. As Hall put it: “I really wanted to write lyrics for that one, but was never quite satisfied with what I came up with. I decided it would be better to let that one be an instrumental. I think it holds up on its own. It’s nice to give the listener a chance to interpret its meaning on its own rather than direct them with words”.

Available on the album ‘Lenses’ via Captured Tracks

https://www.facebook.com/SOFTMETALS/


VILE ELECTRODES The future through a lens (2013)

Anais Neon and Martin Swan’s tribute to ‘Assault On Precinct 13’, ‘The future through a lens’ was a moody but booming instrumental that began their excellent debut longer player of the same name, which later netted a Schallewelle Award for ‘Best international Album’ in 2014. With their vast array of analogue synthesizers and exquisite taste for sound textures, it won’t be too surprising if VILE ELECTRODES aren’t offered some soundtrack opportunities in the near future.

Available on the album ‘The future through a lens’ via
https://vileelectrodes.bandcamp.com/album/the-future-through-a-lens

http://www.vileelectrodes.com/


TODD TERJE Delorean Dynamite (2014)

Although making his name within EDM circles, the Norwegian producer born Todd Olsen paid a musical tribute to ‘Back To The Future’ and its futuristic gull-wing doored Delorean DMC-12 car with this suitably driving Synthwave instrumental. Unlike other so-called dance producers, Terje is conversant with electronic music history and possesses a wry sense of humour, as evidenced by the witty wordplay of track titles like ‘Inspector Norse’ and his own DJ moniker.

Available on the album ‘It’s Album Time’ via Olsen Records

http://toddterje.com/


BLANCMANGE Cistern (2015)

After the first phase of BLANCMANGE, Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe worked within the TV and film industry, scoring soundtracks and incidental music. Although best known for his voice, Neil Arthur’s instrumentals have been a continual form of expression. The brilliant ‘Cistern’ comes over like an imaginary Bond Theme for a retro-futuristic world. The wordless wonder that is the parent album ‘Nil By Mouth’ is an unsung masterpiece.

Available on the album ‘Nil By Mouth’ via Blanc Check

http://www.blancmange.co.uk


RODNEY CROMWELL Baby Robot (2015)

Adam Cresswell’s sombre vocals and the darker lyrical themes on his debut RODNEY CROMWELL album ‘Age Of Anxiety’ took a breather with the bright and breezy ‘Baby Robot’. With sweet synthesizer melodies, pretty glints of glockenspiel and a bouncy beatbox, the instrumental was inspired by birth of his son. “Yes, ‘Baby Robot’ is the one track on the album that’s 100% upbeat as it is about the experience of being a father” he gleefully told The Electricity Club.

Available on the album ‘Age Of Anxiety’ via https://happyrobotsrecords.bandcamp.com/

http://www.happyrobots.co.uk/


DARKNESS FALLS Thunder Roads (2015)

While Danish duo DARKNESS FALLS are better known for their melancholic Nordic vocals and neo-gothic overtones on songs like ‘The Void’, the dark synthy instrumental ‘Thunder Roads’ proved to be one of the most striking tracks on their second album ‘Dance & Cry’. With a punchy drum machine mantra and menacing reverberant sequence, it was augmented by guitar screeches and sombre six string basslines reminiscent of JOY DIVISION and THE CURE.

Available on the album ‘Dance & Cry’ via Fake Diamond Records

http://darknessfallsmusic.com/


JEAN-MICHEL JARRE & BOYZ NOISE The Time Machine (2015)

JEAN-MICHEL JARRE’s first album for since ‘Teo & Tea’ in 2007 was a two volume opus entitled ‘Electronica’; it features collaborations with a number of synth pioneers and modern day dance artists including BOYZ NOISE aka Berlin DJ Alexander Ridha. This climactic track took on a new life as the set closer on the French synth maestro’s ‘Electronica’ world tour, with a lasered 3D visual feast that required no special glasses! BUT BEWARE OF FLASHING IMAGES! 😉

Available on the album ‘Electronica 1 – The Time Machine’ via Columbia Records

http://jeanmicheljarre.com/


JOHN CARPENTER Utopian Façade (2016)

The horror film king recorded his ‘Lost Themes’ series in collaboration with his son Cody and his godson Daniel Davies as standalone pieces, without the pressure of having to put the music to moving images. The second volume was completed on a tighter schedule to accompany a world concert tour and thus replicated some of the challenging moods in his soundtrack work with tracks like ‘Utopian Façade’ recalling his classic movie soundscapes.

Available on the album ‘Lost Themes II’ via Sacred Bones

http://www.theofficialjohncarpenter.com/


KYLE DIXON & MICHAEL STEIN Stranger Things (2016)

Dixon and Stein are members of the Texan group SURVIVE and their accompanying music to ‘Stranger Things’, a cross between ‘ET’, ‘The Goonies’ and ‘Alien’, sent electronic music fans into online meltdown with its use of vintage analogue synths. With a soundtrack influenced by the horror flicks of Dario Argento and of course John Carpenter, the one minute opening title music to the acclaimed drama series said all that was needed to be said in its brooding dissonant tones.

Available on the soundtrack album ‘Stranger Things – Volume 1’ via Invada Records

https://www.facebook.com/survivesurvive/


TINY MAGNETIC PETS Klangfarben (2016)

As would be expected from a title like ‘Klangfarben’, this vibrant instrumental from Dublin trio TINY MAGNETIC PETS is an enjoyable homage to Germanic music forms, with a loose percussive feel that still maintains that vital degree of Motorik. A word meaning “soundcolour”, it refers to a technique whereby a musical line is split between several instruments, rather than assigning it to just one instrument, thereby adding timbre and texture to proceedings.

Available on the EP ‘The NATO Alphabet EP’ via https://tinymagneticpets.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Tiny-Magnetic-Pets-69597715797/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
25th April 2017

A Beginner’s Guide To DEPECHE MODE In The 21st Century

Nearly 30 years since the Concert For The Masses at Pasadena Rose Bowl, DEPECHE MODE continue to fill stadia throughout the world.

However, their recorded output in the 21st Century and their attitude towards their live presentation leaves a lot to be desired.

But despite The Electricity Club’s criticism of DEPECHE MODE as a live band with the excesses of The Drumhead and The Noodler, they are still capable of occasional brilliance as an artistic force. And it is that intermittent quality which is the most frustrating aspect of DEPECHE MODE in the 21st Century.

But this article is not about the absence of Alan Wilder or the much-debated choice of producers, it’s about when the DEPECHE MODE brand has got it right, whether with the full involvement of the band’s members or not.

So which are those moments that veer closest to the glory of albums such as ‘Black Celebration’, ‘Music For The Masses’ and ‘Violator’ that see Messrs Fletcher, Gahan and Gore properly exploring the electronic sound with which they made their fortune? Tellingly, many of the best DM moments in this new millennium are remixes, instrumentals, bonus tracks or songs sung by Martin Gore.

It must be pointed out that this listing is NOT intended for Devotees but aimed those former fans of DEPECHE MODE who disillusioned by Dave Gahan’s drug fuelled stage diving antics, bowed out after ‘Songs Of Faith & Devotion’ or those hanging on for the possibility a good record using synthesizers rather than a collection of pastiche electro-blues.

So here are the 18 tracks which act as The Electricity Club’s own Beginner’s Guide To DEPECHE MODE in the 21st Century.


Dream On – Dave Clarke Acoustic Version (2001)

‘Dream On’ was a messy trailer to the inappropriately named ‘Exciter’ album, but with Dave Clarke slowing down the song’s acoustic guitar line, the makeover brought the track closer to its full musical potential. Anything BUT acoustic thanks to the addition of electronic drum patterns and icy string synths, there was the bonus of the track being made instrumental and free of the dreary lead vocal on the original.

Available on the 2CD album ‘Remixes 81 – 04’ via Sony Music


I Feel Loved (2001)

Inspired by Giorgio Moroder, the pacey and club friendly ‘I Feel Loved’ stood out like a sore thumb on ‘Exciter’, being the album’s only truly uptempo number. With its synthy sirens and tightly sequenced bassline, treated enhancement was provided by Airto Moreira, a veteran jazz drummer from Brazil who appeared to have a good grasp as to the best way to provide percussive colour to a danceable electronic recording.

Available on the album ‘Exciter’ via Sony Music


Easy Tiger – Full Version (2001)

Martin Gore’s interest in leftfield electronica and thus the employment of the late Mark Bell from LFO as producer on ‘Exciter’ only truly manifested itself in the full-length version of ‘Easy Tiger’ which appeared on the B-side of the ‘Dream On’ single. A beautifully progressive track with many intelligent layers and hypnotic percussive counterpoints, a truncated version of ‘Easy Tiger’ ended up on the album, but was so short that it was rendered virtually pointless when cut off at two minutes.

Available on the 6CD single boxed set ‘6’ via Mute Records


Zenstation (2001)

A dreamy neo-instrumental with a few Martin Gore vocal ab-libs, ‘Zenstation’ emerged as the B-side of ‘Freelove’. Using exotic koto samples and assorted detuned synth sounds, the under rated track was strong on melody and inventive in its percussive interplay. Recalling an earlier mood piece ‘Christmas Island’ but utilising a more meditative environment, its Far Eastern overtones provided a wonderful textural diversion within the DEPECHE MODE canon.

Available on the CD single ‘Freelove’ via Mute Records


A Pain That I’m Used To – MARSHEAUX remix (2005)

Already a magnificent brooding epic in its original form, ‘A Pain That I’m Used To’ was brilliantly transformed by MARSHEAUX, adding their own sparkling top end dynamic. While this is one of DEPECHE MODE’s better offerings in recent years, it seems outsiders have a better grasp of classic DM than the band themselves. Although never officially released, this was voted top remix in a poll of Devotees and far superior to the dreadful Jacques Lu Cont remix that the band insist on doing live!

Remix not officially available


Suffer Well (2005)

The ‘Playing The Angel’ album was a return to form, thanks largely to its “pain and suffering in various tempos” but also following his lacklustre solo debut ‘Paper Monsters’, the rise of Dave Gahan’s abilities as a songwriter, as proven by the embittered thrust of ‘Suffer Well’. It was a fine if slightly overdriven fusion of rock and electronic elements that came over brilliantly in a live setting.

Available on the album ‘Playing The Angel’ via Sony Music


Martyr – Paul van Dyk Radio Mix (2006)

It could be said that the worst judges of DEPECHE MODE’s music are DEPECHE MODE themselves… originally titled ‘Martyr For Love’, this rousing number came from the ‘Playing The Angel’ sessions, but was apparently rejected from the album for being too poppy! Released as the launch single to a ‘Best Of’ compilation, the most enjoyable version of the song came via a remix from top Trance DJ Paul Van Dyk who exploited the tune’s accessibility to the full with a nicely polished club friendly sound.

Available as an iTunes download single via Mute Records


Wrong – Trentemøller Club Remix (2009)

Anders Trentemøller’s superb Club Remix of ‘Wrong’ well and truly outstripped the rather ploddy original. His astute understanding of synthesizers and conventional instruments has made him an acclaimed producer in-demand with both electronic acts and indie bands such as SAVAGES. But despite sitting under the noses of Messrs Gahan, Gore and Fletcher, the Dane has unbelievably never received that call.

Available on the album ‘Remixes 2: 81-11’ via Sony Music


Spacewalker (2009)

Martin Gore writes great instrumentals, but unlike the days of yore when he would explore his synths and build atmospheres like ‘Oberkorn’ and ‘Nothing To Fear’, they are kept as short as possible, almost in fear of boring the more rock inclined audiences where subtle textures are a bit of an anathema. ‘Spacewalker’ was wonderfully light and tuneful relief on the rather dire ‘Sounds Of The Universe’.

Available on the album ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ via Sony Music


Jezebel (2009)

Martin Gore’s voice is undoubtedly more suited to ballads and in an album of C-sides, a song that perhaps would have only been a B-side a few years earlier was the highlight of ‘Sounds Of the Universe’. With lyrics such as “Whenever we walk in – You’re going straight to hell for wanton acts of sin”, ‘Jezebel’ was a stand-out song and able to keep the some of the more deviantly inclined Devotees happy.

Available on the album ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ via Sony Music


Oh Well (2009)

‘Oh Well’ is one the best DEPECHE MODE recordings of the 21st Century, but it never made the final tracklisting of ‘Sound Of The Universe’ which proves the band aren’t necessarily the best judges of their own music. The first Gore / Gahan song collaboration, although their parts were written separately, it showed that DEPECHE MODE could still sound exciting when some creative tension was thrown in. Like Giorgio Moroder meeting DAF, it was cruelly used as a video teaser to fool fans into thinking ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ would be a full-blown synth work.

Available on the 4CD deluxe boxed set ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ via Mute Records


The Sun & The Moon & The Stars – Electronic Periodic’s Microdrum Mix (2009)

‘The Sun & The Moon & The Stars’ was a Martin Gore vocalled outtake from the ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ sessions and while it was included on the deluxe 4CD boxed set alongside ‘Oh Well’, the guitar driven ditty was much less convincing. The more overtly electronic Microdrum Mix with its scratchy rhythm passage and robotised harmonies was far superior, as an example of yet another more fully realised recording courtesy of an external remixer.

Available on the iTunes Pass download album ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ via Mute Records


Soothe My Soul (2013)

An obvious cousin of the bluesy ‘Personal Jesus’ but quickly disowned and dropped from the ‘Delta Machine’ tour, ‘Soothe My Soul’ was one of the few crowd pleasers in a live set that had far too many lulls. But with Gahan’s rockist tendencies and insistence on live drums from Christian Eigner, why don’t DEPECHE MODE be brave and go the full blues combo hog, put Peter Gordeno on bass guitar and drop the electronics, as well as the old hits? Is that possibly because no-one would bother to see them?

Available on the album ‘Delta Machine’ via Columbia Records


Broken (2013)

A song that Dave Gahan said to Mojo Magazine was “uptempo” but in reality, was more like ‘A Question Of Time’ with assistance provided by a mobility scooter, ‘Broken’ was nevertheless, one of the better and more electronic offerings on the blues dominated ‘Delta Machine’. But the end result sees Gore desperately trying to work guitar into a track where it’s not needed, almost as a statement to say that DEPECHE MODE are NO LONGER an electronic band!

Available on the album ‘Delta Machine’ via Columbia Records


All That’s Mine (2013)

In a pattern similar to ‘Oh Well’, the best song from the ‘Delta Machine’ sessions was left out of the main act. ‘All That’s Mine’ featured a tightly sequenced backbone, electronically derived rhythms and a gloomy austere… in fact, they were all the perfect ingredients for a classic DM tune! But it was no doubt rejected because Dave Gahan can’t do a Mick Jagger impression to it and would have been changed beyond recognition if performed with live drums.

Available on the 2CD deluxe album ‘Delta Machine’ via Columbia Records


Should Be Higher – In My Eyes Remix (2013)

Using sounds sampled off ‘World In My Eyes’, this 4/4 bootleg remix by DOMINATRIX was far superior to the original, offering many of the synthesized textures and electronic percussive templates that made DEPECHE MODE great. In its original form, the song was good but suffered from a lacklustre production and ploddy arrangement, perhaps in an attempt to project a more authentic bluesman demeanour. It’s almost as if DEPECHE MODE are scared to be considered an electronic band these days.

Remix not officially available


Cover Me – Alt Out (2017)

The vocal-less second half of ‘Cover Me’ was brilliant, a gorgeous cacophony of arpeggios and layers of sweeping synths reminiscent of the ‘Violator’ era. But when the ‘Alt Out’ mix was issued as a bonus on the ‘Spirit’ album’s deluxe edition, it was as if someone within the band’s circle understood Gahan’s SOULSAVERS warbling was likely to polarise and that an instrumental version would be appreciated by the masses… it was!

Available on the 2CD deluxe album ‘Spirit’ via Columbia Records


Fail (2017)

Despite being the main songwriter, things do not look good when the best vocal song on a DEPECHE MODE album is one sung by Martin Gore. And after ‘Jezebel’ on ‘Sounds Of the Universe’, it was the turn of the sombre but enticing ‘Fail’ on ‘Spirit’. Gore seems to have an understanding of what is appealing about DEPECHE MODE, but appears too frightened to assert that ethos on the grunge victim that is Gahan. But their dependency on each other to ensure the continued capital value of the brand means that much of the music made now seems strangely muted.

Available on the album ‘Spirit’ via Columbia Records


DEPECHE MODE play London Stadium on Saturday 3rd June 2017

http://www.depechemode.com/

https://www.facebook.com/depechemode/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Anton Corbijn
19th April 2017

A Beginner’s Guide To ZEUS B HELD

Zeus B Held may be not as well-known as Giorgio Moroder, Conny Plank, Martin Rushent, Mike Howlett and Colin Thurston, but the German producer has been a key presence in the development of electronic pop music.

Making his name as a keyboard player in the German rock band BIRTH CONTROL, the experience allowed Zeus B Held to progress as a session musician and producer who the NME later described as being able to combine “electronic Teutonic sounds with a soulful sensibility for melodic expression”.

Often considered an artier counterpart to Giorgio Moroder, Held too embarked on a solo career.

His production breakthrough came from working with GINA X PERFORMANCE in 1979 when the single ‘No GDM’ became a club favourite within the New Romantic movement. At the height of the synth assisted pop boom in Europe, Held was producing the likes of FASHION, JOHN FOXX, DEAD OR ALIVE and DIE KRUPPS while also remixing ALPHAVILLE, SIMPLE MINDS and GARY NUMAN.

In 1995, Held wrote and recorded the music for a worldwide advertising campaign for Swatch while in more recent times, he has tended to work in more jazz inclined fields involving big band orchestras and a World Music collective called DIGITAL DREAMING. But then in 2014, he teamed up with former TANGERINE DREAM member Steve Schroyder in a new electronic project appropriately named DREAM CONTROL.

Without doubt deserving greater recognition for his adventures in modern recording, The Electricity Club looks back at eighteen of his works in chronological order, with a restriction of one track per artist moniker…


ZEUS Fool On The Hill (1978)

Zeus B Held delivered this spacey vocodered cover of THE BEATLES favourite for his debut solo album ‘Zeus’ Amusement’ on Brain Records, home to kosmische acts like CLUSTER, NEU! and KLAUS SCHULZE. Released as a single, ‘Fool On The Hill’ showcased his interest in new technologies while maintaining a traditional and widely recognisable musical aesthetic.

Originally released by Brain Records, currently unavailable

http://zeusbheld.com/


GINA X PERFORMANCE No GDM (1979)

Teaming up with the androgynous art history student Gina Kikoine, ‘No GDM’ was written in honour of the “great dark man” Quentin Crisp and featured an array of ARP and Moog synths to signal the birth of a new European Underground where freedom of expression was key. Unsurprisingly, the song became a regular staple of Rusty Egan’s DJ sets at The Blitz Club. The nonchalant, detached vocal influence of GINA X PERFORMANCE went on to be heard in the music of LADYTRON, CLIENT and MISS KITTIN.

Available on the album ‘Nice Mover’ via LTM Recordings

http://www.ltmrecordings.com/gina_x.html


JOHN FOXX My Wild Love (1983)

When Lord Foxx of Chorley briefly went pop, he teamed up with Zeus B Held for one of the most accessible albums of his career in ‘The Golden Section’. With its emphasis on a band feel and Foxx playing more electric guitar, some critics accused him of starting to sound like ULTRAVOX again. ‘My Wild Love’ was the powerful, in-yer-face opening to the long player. Foxx himself later remarked the album was a mistake as he tried to “fit too many favourite things together”.

Available on the album ‘The Golden Section’ via Edsel Records

http://www.metamatic.com/


DEAD OR ALIVE That’s The Way (1984)

At the height of his fame, Pete Burns came over looking like a later period Gina Kikoine, so it was not entirely surprising that when DEAD OR ALIVE decided to pursue a more electronic dance direction, Zeus B Held would come on board as a willing conspirator. This cover version of KC & THE SUNSHINE BAND’s classic disco tune was the breakthrough, combining precise programming and a brass section with live bass and percussion, plus the vocal colossus that was Burns.

Available on the album ‘Sophisticated Boom Boom’ via Cherry Pop

http://www.deadoralive.net/


FASHION Dreaming (1984)

If Sting had joined DURAN DURAN, it might have sounded like this. Featuring an incessant synth riff over a barrage of Simmonds drums and rock guitars, ‘Dreaming’ featured Alan Darby who took over from original vocalist Dee Harris who departed after the acclaimed ‘Fabrique’ album produced by Held. The German remained for the second album ‘Twilight Of Idols’ and while the band had lost momentum from the line-up changes, this single along with the album’s instrumental title track were worthy highlights.

Available on the album ‘Twilight Of Idols’ via Cherry Red

https://www.discogs.com/artist/47966-Fashion


GINA X Harley Davidson (1984)

A HI-NRG disco take on the provocative tune penned by Serge Gainsbourg and made famous by Brigitte Bardot, Gina Kikoine returned in 1984 with a less ambiguous image for her solo album debut ‘Yinglish’, although Held was still holding the production reins. While Held and Kikoine wrote most of the album together, it was also noted for featuring another cover in THE BEATLES ‘Drive My Car’.

Available on the album ‘Yinglish’ via LTM Recordings

https://www.discogs.com/artist/52866-Gina-X


THIS ISLAND EARTH See That Glow (1984)

Named after a 1952 sci-fi novel by Raymond Jones, THIS ISLAND EARTH were led by songwriter John Hawkins and secured a deal with Magnet Records. They were teamed with Zeus B Held to record two singles, the first of which ‘See That Glow’ was catchy enough to secure BBC radio airplay. Alas the single stalled in the UK chart at No47 in late 1984 and after another Held produced song ‘Take Me To The Fire’ failed to chart, that was it from the band…

Originally released by Magnet Records, currently unavailable

https://www.discogs.com/artist/81415-This-Island-Earth


ALPHAVILLE Big In Japan – Extended remix (1984)

Zeus B Held was becoming a master of the 12 inch extended remix and his treatment of ALPHAVILLE’s breakthrough tune put the mighty Linn Drum programming centre stage while working round the song’s catchy verse and chorus. Reversed tape elements, random blips and what was to become Held’s trademark breakdown were added to the seven minute extension, along with a fretless bass not heard on the original, no doubt in a cheeky reference to the band JAPAN.

Originally released by WEA, currently unavailable

http://www.alphaville.info/


DIE KRUPPS Risk (1985)

Despite the dramatic intro, ‘Risk’ was a comparatively pop-oriented offering from the Düsseldorf industrialists with brassy synth tones and orchestral samples coming over like DAF fronting DEAD OR ALIVE. In a bizarre twist, it even featured Mel Gaynor from SIMPLE MINDS on drums! The parent album ‘Entering The Arena’, also produced by Held, offered much of the same with ‘Gladiators’ another of the albums highlights.

Available on the album ‘Entering The Arena’ via Energy Rekords

http://www.diekrupps.de/


PETE WYLIE & THE OEDIPUS WRECKS Sinful! (1986)

In his WAH! days, Wylie proved he could spring an anthemic chorus as on songs like ‘The Story Of The Blues’ and ‘Come Back’. His debut solo single ‘Sinful!’ was an epic widescreen cacophony of grand throbbing electronics, massed synthetic chorals and Wylie’s own urgent vocal delivery. While it was produced by Ian Ritchie, Zeus B Held gave the track a vital remix and ended up producing three further songs on the eventual ‘Sinful!’ album.

Available on the album ‘Sinful!’ via Siren Records

http://www.petewylie.co.uk/


CLARE GROGAN Love Bomb (1987)

The synth propelled new wave of ‘Love Bomb’ was the former ALTERED IMAGES singer’s debut single. Unfortunately, as the title suggested, it indeed did bomb and the album ‘Trash Mad’ recorded with Held was never released. While Miss Grogan did not have the feisty aggression to pull off a tune that was aimed squarely at the American market, Zeus B Held’s production on ‘Love Bomb’ now sounds like a blueprint for TRANSVISION VAMP.

Originally released by London Records, currently unavailable

https://www.facebook.com/ClareGrogansAlteredImages/


MEN WITHOUT HATS Pop Goes The World (1987)

A commentary from the Doroschuk brothers on the ups and downs of fame, while more organic than ‘The Safety Dance’, ‘Pop Goes the World’ produced by Zeus B Held featured a fair smattering of synths and reached No1 in Austria. The parent album of the same name went platinum in the band’s homeland of Canada. The song itself achieved an enhancement to its longevity when it later appeared in a TV advert for Tide laundry detergent pods in 2012.

Available on the MEN WITHOUT HATS album ‘Pop Goes The World’ via Mercury Records

http://www.menwithouthats.com/


GARY NUMAN Cars – Extended E Reg Model (1987)

Coinciding with the new E registration car number plates of that year, Zeus B Held added some digital clangs, pitched swirls and guitars to Numan’s signature synth classic which undoubtedly boosted the song’s longevity. Meanwhile the extended version maximised Ced Sharpley’s drums by isolating them at the start of an impressively arranged mid-song breakdown. Amazingly, the radio edit of Held’s remix has actually been a UK Top 20 hit single twice in its own right, although it was retitled ‘The Premier Mix’ in 1996.

Radio edit available on the GARY NUMAN album ‘Premier Hits’ via Beggars Banquet

https://garynuman.com/


SIMPLE MINDS Ghostdancing – Special Extended 12″ Remix (1987)

As was usual with Zeus B Held’s remixes, he often cleaned up the sound and made the percussive elements sharper. On the extended version of ‘Ghostdancing’, the song’s roots in the more Eurocentric ‘I Travel’ were highlighted as sequencers and reverb were added, along with a building middle eight breakdown. This release for Amnesty International happened to also be the first ever CD single issued on Virgin Records.

Available on the boxed set ‘Once Upon A Time’ via Universal Music

https://www.simpleminds.com/


SPEAR OF DESTINY Never Take Me Alive (1987)

Kirk Brandon was never the happiest fellow in the world and ‘Never Take Me Alive’ produced by Held was possibly SPEAR OF DESTINY’s angry zenith. A mix of acoustic guitar, fretless bass, programmed percussion, synthetic goth choir and modern production values gave SPEAR OF DESTINY their biggest hit in a period when THE CURE, THE SISTERS OF MERCY, THE CULT and THE MISSION ensured that goth shone in the UK singles chart.

Available on the SPEAR OF DESTINY album ‘Outland’ via 10 Records

https://www.kirkbrandon.com/


TRANSVISION VAMP I Want Your Love (1988)

Just as Mutt Lange had been very clever in using state-of-the-art technology to make DEF LEPPARD’s ‘Hysteria’ sound heavy metal, Zeus B Held achieved the same in making his heavily synthesized productions for TRANSVISION VAMP sound punk. A catchy tune arranged by Duncan Bridgeman who had worked with JOHN FOXX on ‘The Garden’ and been a member of jazz funkers I-LEVEL, ‘I Want Your Love’ thrust singer Wendy James into the limelight for her 15 minutes of fame.

Available on the album ‘Pop Art’ via Universal Music

http://www.thewendyjames.com/


NINA HAGEN Hold Me (1989)

The East Berlin born singer and actress started her musical life in the band AUTOMOBIL, but released her first album with the NINA HAGEN BAND in 1978. Maintaining her cult popularity as a punk icon, ‘Hold Me’ was from her solo 1989 album debut proper, produced by Held. An outlandish cover of a traditional gospel song, the arrangement will no doubt have upset purists with its synthetic backing, rock guitars and Hagen’s own theatrical vocal histrionics.

Available on the NINA HAGEN album ‘Nina Hagen’ via Mercury Records

http://ninahagendas.beepworld.de/


ZEUS B HELD Kant Can Dance – Dream Control Mix (2015)

‘Logic Of Coincidence’ was Held’s most recent solo record and largely a cinematic, almost ambient imaginary film soundtrack. While the album was perhaps not wholly representative of Held’s past pop exploits, his artier Moroder template notably appeared on ‘Kant Can’t Dance’. While seeming a bit out of place on the album, its electronic disco friendly template delighted fans of his remix work during his production heyday, especially in its bonus DREAM CONTROL incarnation.

Available on the album ‘Logic Of Coincidence’ via Les Disques du Crépuscule

http://dream-control.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Martin Aspland for the inspiration
8th April 2017

TEC Gold: TRANSMISSIONS ARCHIVE

Yellow+Magic+Orchestra+ymoOver the last seven years, The Electricity Club has written a large number of features that fall outside of the standard interview or review format.

Articles have included new artist introductions, lost albums, song listings based around a variety of topics, beginner’s guides on highly regarded personalities and TEC’s tongue-in-cheek Carry On Synthpop series. These Transmissions have been archived on a page in reverse chronological order. More inside ›

TEC’s 25 FAVOURITE DIGITAL SYNTHS

The switch to digital technology in the production of synthesizers caused a seismic shift not just in the way that music was produced, but also how analogue devices were perceived.

The advent of pioneering products such as the Yamaha DX7 was the catalyst which caused many musicians to throw out/sell their old Moogs and Korgs with the viewpoint that these new devices could do everything sonically that they could plus more besides.

The newly pioneered Frequency Modulation and Phase Distortion forms of synthesis meant that harmonically complex sounds such as bells and pianos could now be simulated and the warm, analogue sounds of synths such as the Roland Jupiter range began to sound immediately dated in comparison.

The trend was continued when both Korg and Roland introduced their PCM/sample-based M1 and D50 synths which added in new layers of complexity in sound creation which again would have been impossible to create using a voltage controlled oscillator-based device.

One only has to listen retrospectively to songs like ‘Human’ by THE HUMAN LEAGUE or albums such as ‘Provision’ by SCRITTI POLITTI to hear how the sawtooth-based electronic sounds of the past had almost overnight become replaced by shiny bell-like tones and THAT omnipresent rubbery ‘Lately’ DX bass sound.

However, hindsight is a wonderful thing and many producers/musicians were left with major egg on their faces when it eventually became apparent that digital synths weren’t the be all and end all, lacking the warmth and ease of programmability that their earlier analogue counterparts were able to provide. Tales of vintage synths being sold for relative peanuts are now legendary and most keyboard players who experienced this era will have an appropriate sob story to tell relating to this!

The next wave of technology to have a significant impact was the birth of the digital sampler – now musicians were able to grab any sound and trigger it from a keyboard and again this had a huge effect on the sound of music production.

Ironically in 2016, everything has now come full circle; manufacturers are now frantically reissuing remakes of earlier analogue and digital products, while with the birth of the virtual synthesizer, packages such as the Arturia Collection V offer up software versions of the Prophet 5, Oberheim SEM and Minimoog at an affordable price.

The choice of digital synthesizers here is a fairly personal one and it isn’t intended to endorse a particular product. Some of the chosen synthesizers weren’t necessarily the highest specified ones either, but were adopted because a producer/musician managed to use it in such a way that belied their lower price point. The synths chosen are also from the first wave of digital synths and as such doesn’t include any of the current wave of digital-based products.


FAIRLIGHT CMI (1979)

The Rolls Royce of samplers and a fully integrated workstation that included a digital synth, sequencer and rhythm programmer, the Australian Fairlight CMI and its 28mb of memory (!) indelibly left its mark on music production. Costing as much as a decent sized house, the CMI helped transform the sound of artists such as JEAN-MICHEL JARRE who used it extensively on ‘Magnetic Fields’ and ‘Zoolook’. Its omnipresent ‘Orchestra 5’ “Whooomph!” patch was used and abused by everybody from PET SHOP BOYS, KLAUS SCHULZE and KATE BUSH to U2 and prog rockers YES…

Iconic example of use: PET SHOP BOYS ‘It’s A Sin’


NED SYNCLAVIER (1979)

The Synclavier was an all singing, all dancing sampling mega-workstation that was favoured by DEPECHE MODE, MICHAEL JACKSON and THE CURE. The cost of some of the versions of the Synclavier made the Fairlight seem affordable in comparison, with a top-spec system going for the outrageous price of $200,000 dollars! Like the CMI, the Synclavier was way ahead of its time and brought a higher quality of sampling and sequencing into a few privileged high end studios.

Iconic example of use: SOFT CELL ‘Tainted Love’


CON BRIO ADS200 (1980)

With only two units being produced, once seen, the Con Brio ADS200 can never be forgotten. Looking like something out of ‘Space 1999’, with a built-in display monitor and clad wall-to-wall in veneer, the ADS200 is probably the nearest the synth world came to an outlandish concept car; it looked incredible, but ultimately was doomed to remain a pipe dream. One belonged to BECK’s father David Campbell who reportedly paid £17,000 for it. The ADS200’s implementation of FM synthesis raised a few legal eyebrows at Yamaha although no action was taken.

Iconic example of use: Fittingly the Con Brio ADS100 got used for sound effects on the movie reboot of ‘Star Trek’


PPG WAVE 2 (1981)

The striking and very blue-looking PPG (Palm Products GmbH) Wave 2 synth became another popular digital synth. Its bell-like quality can be heard on DEPECHE MODE’s ‘A Broken Frame’. TANGERINE DREAM also toured with one extensively after assisting the company with the development many of their other products. Martin Gore had a Casio MT30 sat on his PPG Wave 2 with a ‘Fairlite’ name stuck on the back in what could be seen as a side swipe at Vince Clarke who had ploughed a large percentage of his royalties into a Fairlight purchase.

Iconic example of use: DEPECHE MODE ‘The Sun & The Rainfall’


YAMAHA GS1 (1981)

Despite its 19th Century appearance and looking for all intents and purposes like a grand piano, the GS1 was the first keyboard produced by Yamaha to feature the patented Frequency Modulation (FM) technology. Like the Fairlight, the GS1’s prohibitive price tag of $25,000 meant that it was out of reach for most musicians. The size and weight of the machine at nearly 90kg meant that it was never intended to be a touring machine; only a 100 units were manufactured too, but it still deserves its place in synthesizer history for kick-starting the FM revolution.

Iconic example of use: TOTO ‘Africa’


DIGITAL KEYBOARDS SYNERGY (1982)

The Synergy used additive synthesis to generate its sounds and its 74 note keyboard made it attractive to more proficient keyboard players like WENDY CARLOS who used the Synergy on ‘Digital Moonscapes’ and ‘Beauty In The Beast’. It was unusual in that it allowed the layering of four sounds and also possessed a four track in-built sequencer which was useful, but unfortunately lost its memory once the machine was powered down. Sadly, the advent of the DX7 signalled the death knell for the Synergy, costing three times less and being fully programmable…

Iconic example of use: WENDY CARLOS ‘Tron’ soundtrack


YAMAHA DX7 (1983)

Taking the technology first used in the GS1, the DX7 brought FM Synthesis to the masses and along the way transformed the sound of the charts between 1983-1989. The DX’s distinctive rubbery bass sound started to appear everywhere from A-HA’s ‘Take On Me’, HOWARD JONES’ ‘What is Love?’ through to LEVEL 42’s ‘Hot Water’. But unless you were a musical brainiac like BRIAN ENO, the DX7 was notoriously difficult to program and legend has it that most units which were returned back to Yamaha for any maintenance still had their preset sound banks left untouched!

Iconic example of use: BERLIN ‘Take My Breath Away’


YAMAHA DX1 (1983)

The DX1 could be considered as a connoisseur version of the DX7, every part of it is THAT more expensive looking from its fully weighted keyboard, deeper control panel through to its wooden end cheeks. The sound of the DX1 was much thicker than the often thin sounding DX7 because the user was able to layer two sounds together. If however you intend buying one of these, the secondary market is extremely limited as only 140 models were produced. Users included PET SHOP BOYS and DIRE STRAITS.

Iconic example of use: DIRE STRAITS ‘Money for Nothing’


CASIO CZ101 (1984)

The CASIO CZ101 and YAMAHA DX100 were almost like distantly related cousins; both had mini keys, utilised digital sound generating techniques and had guitar strap pegs which allowed them to be played in a keytar style. The 101 was adopted by Vince Clarke and was used extensively on the debut ERASURE album ‘Wonderland’. Despite being digital, the CZ range was still capable of some pretty rich analogue style sounds and patches like the Organ preset soon found themselves appearing on many a house/dance track in the late 80s.

Iconic examples of use: BLANCMANGE ‘Believe You Me’ album


EMU EMULATOR II (1984)

Much beloved of DEPECHE MODE and NEW ORDER, the follow-up to the original Emulator was an 8 bit machine that had analogue filters. In contrast to the rack-mounted Akai range, the keyboard-based Emulator became a much more popular live machine, with sample storage being held on 5.5 inch floppy disks. The addition of MIDI compatibility, in-built sequencer and separate audio outputs made it a highly sought after sampler. PET SHOP BOYS’ Neil Tennant played one in the infamous Old Grey Whistle Test performance where he fluffs the string part in ‘Opportunities’.

Iconic example of use: DEPECHE MODE ‘Christmas Island’


ENSONIQ MIRAGE (1984)

The Mirage was a good value for money sampler/synthesizer, although the specifications these days look laughable with 8 bit, 333 note sequencing memory and 128kb of RAM. It featured analogue filters, a velocity sensitive keyboard and 8 note polyphony. Even now, players swear by the warmth that the filter can give to a sample, but the inscrutable programming method it utilised via hexadecimal-code manipulation meant that editing samples was only for the faint-hearted! Users included SKINNY PUPPY and JANET JACKSON on the ‘Control’ album.

Iconic example of use: SKINNY PUPPY ‘Jackhammer’


KORG DW8000 (1985)

The heart of the KORG DW8000’s sound was digitally generated from its DWGS (Digital Waveform Generator System). The DW8000 was a bit of a hybrid, half-way between a DX7 and an analogue synthesizer in that its waveforms were digital and its filter analogue. The synth gained a lot of fans because of its in-built arpeggiator and FX and although not as successful as the M1, it was still used by artists such as DEPECHE MODE and KEITH EMERSON.

Iconic example of use: EMERSON, LAKE & POWELL ‘Love Blind’


YAMAHA DX100 (1985)

The DX100 along with the FB01 sound module were the entry level points for those wishing to explore FM synthesis. Whilst not possessing the same amount of operators as its bigger DX brothers, the DX100 became popular with Detroit Techno producers like Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May and Juan Atkins because of its distinctive bass sound. If you also check out an equipment list from the ‘Electric Café’ era of KRAFTWERK, you will see that one surprisingly also found its way into the German electronic maestros synth armoury too.

Iconic example of use: RHYTHIM IS RHYTHIM ‘Nude Photo’


SEQUENTIAL CIRCUITS PROPHET VS (1986)

After their success with the Prophet 5, Prophet 10 and Pro One, the Prophet VS was a departure for Sequential Circuits and featured an innovative joystick which allowed the user to mix/program sounds. The VS was used on the soundtrack to ‘Tron’ and John Carpenter’s ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ with synthesist Alan Howarth using some of the synth’s more ‘eastern’ sounding presets to evoke the atmosphere needed for the film. This was another favourite synth for Vince Clarke and featured extensively on both ‘The Circus’ and ‘The Innocents’ albums.

Iconic example of use: ERASURE ‘It Doesn’t Have to Be’


BUCHLA 700 (1987)

Although generally known as Robert Moog’s competitor in the analogue modular synth stakes, Don Buchla actually produced a digital synth in the shape of the 700. Used by Alessandro Cortini of NINE INCH NAILS fame, it used a mixture of synthesis techniques (FM/Wavetable/Subtractive/Additive) and in true esoteric Buchla fashion, let the user create their own tunings with as many or as little notes per octave as wanted. Only six were made, but BENGE went on to create a mini-album using the 700 called ‘Chimeror’ produced as a result an hour’s improvisation with the machine.

Iconic example of use: BENGE ‘Chimeror’


ROLAND D50 (1987)

Utilising a combination of Pulse Code Modulation (PCM) and Linear Arithmetic (LA) synthesis, the D50 was another omnipresent synth. Its many famous users included ENYA, VANGELIS, JEAN-MICHEL JARRE and Nick Rhodes from DURAN DURAN. For some reason there was a bitter rivalry between M1 and D50 owners as to who had the ‘best’ synth, and to this day, debates still rage on in synth forums! Arguments aside, the D50 was certainly one of the ‘big three’ digital synths that transformed the sound libraries of most synth players in the period.

Iconic example of use: JEAN-MICHEL JARRE ‘Computer Weekend’


AKAI S1000 (1988)

Despite being a royal pain in the ar*e to program due to its small LED screen, the S1000 was THE digital sampler which found its way into the equipment list of every decent studio of the period. Bringing sampling to the masses it also featured a timestretch function which let samples be warped and became the de rigueur vocal effect on tracks such as JOSH WINK’s seminal acid track ‘Higher State of Consciousness’ and DOUBLE 99’s Speed Garage anthem ‘Ripgroove’.

Iconic example of use: PORTISHEAD ‘Dummy’ album


KORG M1 (1988)

Alongside the D50 and the DX7, the M1 was THE synth that was most likely to appear on ‘Top Of The Pops’ when a band featured a keyboard player. With a range of sounds from arguably the first decent ‘real’ piano sound through to some complex/atmospheric patches, the M1 was adopted by everybody from house producers using the organ bass like on ‘Show Me Love’ by ROBIN S through to your typical functions band of the day. OMD’s 1991 ‘Sugar Tax’ album is almost entirely Korg M1!

Iconic example of use: GARY NUMAN ‘Sacrifice’ album


ROLAND W30 (1989)

The W30 deserves its place in TEC’s list if only for the way that Liam Howlett from THE PRODIGY was so devoted to it for nigh on 20 years. Despite being Roland’s 1st workstation synthesizer and featuring sampling technology, Howlett used the W30 primarily as a sequencer to drive sounds/loops from his Akai Sampler and would go onto use up until 2008. Howlett’s live use of the W30 was so extensive that he reportedly bought up all of the remaining keys from Roland Japan as he used to break them every other show…

Iconic example of use: THE PRODIGY ‘Everybody In The Place’


ROLAND JD800 (1991)

The JD800 signalled a return to the analogue-style design philosophy of its older machines with plenty of real-time control and sliders, but at the time wasn’t a terribly successful selling machine. The machine featured a keyboard with aftertouch which allowed extra control of its sounds, but if you manage to find a JD800 on the s/h market now, this was one of the things to fail on the machine as the glue used had a habit of melting. Famous users of the JD800 include: FAITHLESS, UNDERWORLD and DEPECHE MODE.

Iconic example of use: JEAN-MICHEL JARRE ‘Chronologie 4’


WALDORF WAVE (1993)

Although a digital synth (it was Wavetable based), the Wave had analogue filters which helped give it its warmth. Its users included HANS ZIMMER, LEFTFIELD, ANTHONY ROTHER, KLAUS SCHULZE and ULRICH SCHNAUSS who still has an orange model – it was also unusual in being expandable from 16 voices up to 48 voices. With only roughly 200 sold, the Wave pretty much put Waldorf out of business with the company actually losing money on each unit shipped. Due to its scarcity, the Wave is highly collectable with a price tag close to $10,000 for one.

Iconic example of use: BJÖRK ‘Violently Happy (Live Version)’


CLAVIA NORD LEAD (1994)

The original Clavia Nord Lead helped coin the term “virtual analog synthesis”. It was followed by a series of other machines all in a distinctive red livery and was adopted by many artists including NINE INCH NAILS, UNDERWORLD and FLUKE. The addition of several real-time controls plus the ability to mimic several retro analogue synths meant that the Lead became an extremely popular synth with a range that still endures today.

Iconic example of use: THE PRODIGY ‘Funky Sh*t’


KORG PROPHECY (1995)

The Prophecy was unusual in that it was a monophonic synth that used virtual modelling to emulate everything from blown and plucked sounds, through to thicker, more analogue textures. Probably most famous for providing one of the lead sounds on THE PRODIGY’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’, the Prophecy was also blessed with aftertouch and ribbon control on what was often affectionately referred to as a ‘sausage roll’ on the left hand edge of the synthesizer.

Iconic example of use: THE PRODIGY ‘Smack My Bitch Up’


KURZWEIL K2500 (1996)

The K2500 in its keyboard and rack version was popular as a workstation synth, featuring a synth engine, sequencer and sampling with the additional ability to load in Akai samples. It found favour as live machine for several years with PINK FLOYD and in the studio with NINE INCH NAILS. The rack version wasn’t the most user friendly machine to use due its over-reliance on its editing screen, but the machine had a lush warm sound to them and many users continue to swear by them.

Iconic example of use: PLASTIKMAN ‘Plasticine’


WALDORF MICROWAVE XT (1998)

With the rise of melodic trance, synths like the brightly coloured (or some might say ‘lairy’) Microwave XT from the Waldorf range help artists such as FERRY CORSTEN re-introduce some welcome digital-based analogue sounds back into the musical marketplace. The Microwave XT, although a baby brother to the HUGE Wave synth, was still an extremely fat sounding synth and coloured its most prominent control (the filter cut-off) in a fetching shade of red to differentiate it from the other controls on its orange front panel. NINE INCH NAILS also count amongst one its famous users.

Iconic example of use: THE ART OF NOISE ‘The Seduction of Claude Debussy’ album


Text by Paul Boddy
4th March 2017